During the era in which the Ripper was active, there were 11 murders committed in London’s East End. These murders took place between April 3, 1888 through February 13th, 1891. These murders were collectively known as the “Whitechapel Murders”, being labeled as such by a London Metropolitan Police Service investigation.
Of the eleven Whitechapel Murders, it is widely believed that Jack the Ripper is directly responsible for five of them. It is possible that the Ripper may have claimed more than five victims, but most experts agree that at least five of the East End murders were the work of Jack the Ripper.
Note: Although the deaths of these eleven women were officially recorded as murders, evidence in the case of Rose Mylett (see: Later Whitechapel Murders) suggests accidental death or suicide.
Emma Elizabeth Smith
The first victim in the series of Whitechapel Murders was a prostitute by the name of Emma Elizabeth Smith. Smith was attacked and raped on Osbourn Street in Whitechapel on April 3, 1888. During the sexual assault, her attackers inserted a blunt object into her vagina, an injury which would take her life the following day. Before she died the next day at a London hospital, Smith told authorities that two or three men, one of them a teenager, were responsible for her attack.
The press had linked Smith’s murder to the subsequent Whitechapel Murders, but most experts later believed that particular murder to be the result of random gang violence.
The next victim in the series of Whitechapel Murders was Martha Tabram. Tabram, a prostitute in the East End, was brutally murdered on August 7, 1888. She had been stabbed 39 times, her body found at 3:30am on a landing above the first flight of stairs in the George Yard Buildings of Gunthorpe Streep in Whitechapel.
Many feel that Tabram was the Ripper’s first victim, due to the proximity of the murder in relation to the others, as well as the brutal nature of the crime. However, most experts agree that another individual was responsible for Tabram’s death, and not Jack the Ripper. Tabram’s wound patterns were distinctly different from the Canonical Five, in that she received multiple stab wounds as opposed to being slashed, which is believed to be the Modus Operandi of the Ripper.
Although eleven women were murdered around the time of the Ripper’s reign, there were five victims that stood apart from the rest. The Canonical Five, as they are known, are believed to have all been murdered by the same hand. All five victims, prostitutes of the East End, shared distinct and similar wounds, as well as postmortem organ removal and mutilations in some cases. Other victims in the Whitechapel Murders investigation had been brutally murdered as well, but none were carried out with the same precision and methodology as the Canonical Five.
These five victims were all killed under cover of darkness, typically in the early morning hours. All of these murders also occurred on a weekend, or within one day of, and happened towards the end of the month, or within a week or so after.
Sir Melville Macnaghten, who had been Assistant Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police Service and Head of the Criminal Investigation Department, wrote a report in 1894 that stated: “the Whitechapel murderer had 5 victims – & 5 victims only”.
The police surgeon, Thomas Bond, also linked the killings together in a letter he’d written to Robert Anderson, head of the London CID, on 10 November 1888.
Mary Ann Nichols
The body of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols was discovered in the wee morning hours of August 31, 1888, at about 3:40am. Her body was found in front of a gated stable entrance in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel. Her throat had been deeply severed in two locations and her lower abdomen partially ripped open by a deep, jagged wound. The killer had also made several other incisions in her abdomen with the same knife.
A witness had reported seeing Annie Chapman talking with a man outside 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, 5:30am the morning of her murder. Approximately twenty minutes later, her badly mutilated body was found near a doorway in the back yard. Her throat had been cut much in the same manner as was Mary Ann Nichols’ and her abdomen slashed entirely open. A later autopsy revealed that the killer had removed her uterus.
The Ripper would claim two victims in the early morning hours of September 30, 1888; the first of which was Elizabeth Stride. Her body was discovered in Dutfield’s Yard, off Berner Street, at approximately 1am. The killer had cut her throat, severing her left artery, yet no other slashes or incisions had been made.
Because of the absence of abdominal mutilations, there has been some doubt as to whether or not Stride was in fact killed by Jack the Ripper. However, most experts agree that Stride was murdered by the same killer due to the nature in which her throat had been cut.
It’s also believed that the reason Stride had not been mutilated like the others, was due to an interruption of some sort. It’s possible the killer feared he was in jeopardy of being detected by nearby witnesses, and elected to flee before finishing his ritual.
Forty five minutes after Stride’s body was found in Dutfield’s Yard, Eddowes’ body was discovered in Mitre Square, within the City of London. Eddowes’ throat had been severed and her abdomen torn open with a deep, jagged wound. Her left kidney had been removed, along with a major portion of her uterus.
The Stride and Eddowes murders were later referred to as the “Double Event“.
Important Update: Based on modern scientific evidence obtained from what is believed to be a shawl taken from the Eddowes crime scene, author and “armchair detective” (…and Ripper gift shop owner…wink, wink) Russell Edwards claims to have solved the case and identified the killer as Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski. In his new book entitled “Naming Jack the Ripper“, Edwards provides what he feels is substantiated evidence obtained via thorough forensic scientific investigation.
Inside the 330 plus pages of his book, Edwards describes the process of the studies – validating both that the piece of evidence obtained for the testing is legitimate, and that the blood and semen samples found on the shawl tie both Eddowes and Kosminski to that same piece of evidence. Many people will see the recent headlines crediting Edwards with solving the crime as shameless promotion for his new book, but depending on what he provides us with inside, perhaps there is enough evidence to back up his claim.
Regardless, there will be those that will dismiss his findings, and others who might be convinced of Kosminski’s guilt in the Eddowes case alone, but one thing’s for sure…it could provide for an entertaining read!
For more information on Kosminski, along with Edwards’s investigation, please see our editorial here.
Mary Jane Kelly
Considered to be Jack the Ripper’s Swan Song, Mary Jane Kelly’s murder was the most gruesome of all the Whitechapel Murders. She was found horribly mutilated, lying on the bed in her single room flat where she lived at 13 Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, Spitalfields. She was discovered at 10:45am on the morning of Friday, November 9, 1888.
The landlord’s assistant, Thomas Bowyer, had been sent over to collect the rent, which she had been weeks behind in paying. When she didn’t answer his knock at the door, Bowyer reach his hand through a crack in the window, pushing aside a coat being used as makeshift drapery. What he saw at that moment was absolutely horrific.
Kelly’s body was mutilated beyond recognition. Her entire abdominal cavity had been emptied out, her breasts cut off, and her viscera had been placed about the room, as if for decoration. Kelly’s face had been hacked away and her heart removed, which was also absent from the crime scene. Kelly’s murder was by far the most grisly and ritualistic of all.
The Fate of the Ripper
Regardless of whether or not the Ripper’s bloodsport ended with Mary Jane Kelly, it’s certain that it did end. Many speculate that this was due to either illness and eventual death, or perhaps insanity which led to institutionalization.
Some suggest he may have fled the country and lived in self-imposed exile. One thing that is certain… along with the other killer(s) involved in the Whitechapel Murders, his true identity has never been obtained.
Following Kelly’s ghastly murder, there were four other women who were killed in the Whitechapel district during that same period, the first of which was Rose Mylett. Mylett was found strangled in Clarke’s Yard on High Street on December 20, 1888. Investigators assessed that her death may have been the result of a drunken stupor, as there were no visible signs of a struggle apparent anywhere on her body or clothing. Even though the inquest deemed it to be a murder, her death in no way resembled a Ripper killing.
The body of Alice McKenzie was found on July 17, 1889, in Castle Alley, Whitechapel. She had suffered a severed carotid artery, along with multiple small cuts and bruises across her body – evident of a struggle. One of the pathologists involved in the investigation dismissed this as a possible Ripper murder, as it did not match with the findings of the three previous Ripper victims he had examined. Writers have also disputed McKenzie as being a victim of Jack the Ripper, but rather of a murderer trying to copy his modus operandi in an attempt to deflect suspicion.
The tenth Whitechapel murder victim was “The Pinchin Street Torso”. The victim was named as such because she was found headless and legless under a railway arch on Pinchin Street, Whitechapel, on September 10, 1889.
Investigators believed that the victim was murdered at a different location, and the body dismembered for disposal.
Frances Coles was murdered on February 13, 1891. She was found at Swallow Gardens – a passageway beneath a railway arch between Chamber Street and Royal Mint Street, Whitechapel – with her throat slit. Visible wounds on the back of her head suggested that Coles was likely thrown to the ground after having suffered to knife wounds across her throat. Apart from the cuts to her throat, there were no mutilations to her body.
A man named James Thomas Sadler, who authorities believed to be Jack the Ripper, was arrested and charged with her murder, but was later discharged on March 3, 1891 due to lack of evidence.
The Mystery Surrounding the Whitechapel Murders
Although it’s believed that Jack the Ripper was responsible for only five of the eleven Whitechapel Murders, the person or persons that committed these murders evaded capture. Several arrests were made, many witnesses were questioned, inquiries were conducted, as well as efforts by the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee to bring the killer(s) to justice, but no one was ever caught or identified.
To this day, the fiendish individual(s) responsible for these horrible crimes have forever remained unknown.